France proposes new global fund for endangered heritage sites

The $100m initiative, inspired by the Global Fund to fight AIDS, will be presented at a conference in Abu Dhabi this week

Forty countries are expected to attend a conference on safeguarding endangered cultural heritage, scheduled to be held at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi on the 2 and 3 December. The conference is taking place in the wake of the horrific destruction of cultural sites by Isil in Iraq and Syria over the past four years. Hosted by France and the UAE, it will focus on ways of preventing such attacks and countering the trafficking of cultural goods. The decisions taken will be submitted to the UN Security Council.

The key proposal from France will be the establishment of an international fund for the protection of cultural properties in time of war, which will seek to raise at least $100m. "This fund will be based in Switzerland, under Swiss law", says Jack Lang, the French coordinator for the conference. He says it will be the "key of the conference's success".

The former culture minister also revealed that France was ready to contribute $30m to start the fund. It will be modeled on the Global Fund to Fight Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, launched with the help of the Bill Gates Foundation, which has so far raised $33bn. This type of public-private partnership is preferred over another existing fund with similar aims that is managed by Unesco, but which has around €400,000 in its coffers. However, Lang says that the new Global Fund for Culture will be created "in partnership with Unesco and [will be] based on its technical expertise".

The fund, he says, will help finance the reconstruction of sites such as Nimrud or Palmyra, and provide training for the repair and protection of cultural heritage as well as the removal of collections in cases of imminent threat. "It will allow us to move very fast", he says.

Taking example from the removal of Spain’s artistic treasures on the eve of the civil war in 1936, France also intends to propose a global network of shelters for cultural goods in danger. It has already pledged to devote some of the space in the new storage facilities being built by the Louvre for this. According to Jack Lang, China and Japan have expressed their interest in joining the initiative.

The conference in Abu Dhabi will be preceded by a meeting of experts, which will be attended by the directors of the Metropolitan Museum, the Pergamon Museum and the Louvre, among others. They will be joined by the French President François Hollande and heads of states from Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Yemen, as well as Unesco's director-general Irina Bokova. “The Assad regime was not invited,” Lang says.